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Old July 29th, 2010, 02:27 AM   #1
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Storytelling - editing techniques - Questions


I'm about to create a short documentary with a friend of mine.
It's about informing the public about a political agenda that is hidden for most people in norway, but eventually this issue will affect all people in our country. So the documentary is both for educating / give information to the masses as well as (hopefully) put pressure on the officials that makes the decisions.

What I'm looking for now is to find out how to tell this story. What kind of editing, storytelling techniques I want to use.

Is there some place where I online can watch different storytelling-editing techniques used, where these techniques are discussed and where the different techniques are organized in categories so it easy to browse and find (see) something I can learn from?
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Old August 15th, 2010, 03:20 PM   #2
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Hi Tore,

I am no expert but I'm dealing with this same situation myself and I haven't found any website like the one you noted. Although that would be a great website idea if someone created it! I can tell you though, that I have found some very good books about documentary storytelling and concepts, etc.

The best fit for what you are asking about is probably: "Documentary Storytelling" by Sheila Bernard. It is a great book (creative-side of doc storytelling) to read on this subject. I would also recommend watching lots of better quality documentaries (or at least ones that have had some success) as part of reading this book. The book covers a ton of them as examples - I've been just buying the ones I want to see from Amazon "used" at a good discount $3-$5. This will help you look for the story telling elements detailed in the book. I really think watching lots of documentaries is probably your best bet.
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Old August 15th, 2010, 03:48 PM   #3
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Thanks for your reply. Much appreciated!

Will definitely look into the book you mentioned.
And yes.... I agree that watching documentaries is the way to go...

But I'm quite amazed that nobody has created a forum or website that deliver what I'm asking for.
How great it would have been to be able to have most different storytelling, shooting and editing techniques available within a "few" mouseclicks. Well not quite that easy I suspect, but probably a lot easier than having to watch tons and tons of different documentaries, "blindly" (more or less), looking for some storytelling techniques to be used in your next "top notch" documentary.
I say blindly because people like me, does not know what different techniques are available.... so I have to be lucky to find what I want, by looking randomly at different documentaries.
How cool it would be if I could look into different categories of storytelling techniques, each shortly described, and then be able to browse only documentaries, or even better, browse short clips, where those specific techniques where in use, not having to "waste" time on all the others.

There is no problem finding tons of sites discussing gear and the latest technological advancements related to video and film-making. Finding a site that organize the different techniques of telling a story, or part of a story and where you can see examples (motion, extracted from finished movies/documentaries) is practically non-existent.
To me that is pretty weird... since.... what makes a goode movie or documentary is not the camera used but how the story was presented to the viewer. And to me, the most important skill to master... is storytelling. Everything else is secondary.
That said... I'm a totally unexperienced amateur.

Last edited by Tore B. Krudtaa; August 16th, 2010 at 04:18 AM.
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Old August 15th, 2010, 09:20 PM   #4
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start with a script and need to know your objectives. If you're doing interviews, you need to know what to ask and how to get emotional responses to your questions (have a plan for each interview or sequence).
You need to decide on the stand you wish to take and the mood of the piece. This will tell you how to frame shots and what's important in any given location or action. It will also tell you how to position the camera (e.g. favouring 'victims', ridiculing politicians, etc). As you know, documentary is storytelling, and is your unique perspective on what you're going to shoot. Discover that, and the other answers will flow.

Then you'll need to know your delivery format. If it's for BBC/Discovery etc they have strict standards. If it's for a local body, find out what their viewers are used to. Gather as much information as possible so your doc will find the widest audience.

Obviously, when you shoot, you might be surprised most of the time, and the finished product will not always end up the way you want (unless you have perfectly controlled environments, like movies). All the best.
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Old August 16th, 2010, 02:21 AM   #5
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Scriptwriting sites can cover this in detail, editing is more a rewrite than coming up with the original story.

Script Writing and Screenwriting Help

These look like possible starting points.
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Old August 16th, 2010, 07:24 AM   #6
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Try googling for different ways to present information in written form: to inform, to persuade or to entertain. Stuff that's usually addressed in literature and journalism courses. A brief google search pulled up this journalism page on story structure. Skim down to the story structure part.

The documentary/film world would benefit from more stuff like that. The 3 act structure is useful, but it's so generic that it doesn't really help you meaningfully assess how you should approach your story except in the widest possible way.
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